Lions tour to make step up in in­ten­sity against Blues

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

WELLING­TON: Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions coach War­ren Gat­land knows his side will have to be put through hell if they are to be ready for the All Blacks on June 24, and the Blues will pro­vide the per­fect trial by fire for his side to­mor­row.

The Lions got off to a stut­ter­ing start to their tour on Satur­day, limp­ing to a 13-7 vic­tory over the Provin­cial Bar­bar­ians in Whangarei with a per­for­mance that was roundly crit­i­cised by pun­dits both in New Zealand and back home.

While Gat­land agreed it was not the ideal way to be­gin their 10-match tour, he said it was im­por­tant to keep get­ting tough games un­der their belt to pre­pare for three Tests against world cham­pi­ons New Zealand.

“We know we didn’t play too well on Satur­day (and) ... there are some things we need to work on,” he said when he named his side for the Blues clash. We have been say­ing all along how strong New Zealand rugby is at the mo­ment ... (but) these games are help­ing us pre­pare and com­ing to grips with what New Zealand rugby brings.

“And that is only go­ing to help us for the Test matches.”

Gat­land had promised whole­sale changes for each of the first three games of the tour in or­der to give all of the 41 play­ers an op­por­tu­nity to press for Test se­lec­tion.

He stuck to his word for the Blues game with an en­tirely dif­fer­ent start­ing side from that which played the Bar­bar­ians and in­di­cated there could be up to 11 changes to the run-on side for the next game against the Cru­saders on Satur­day.

“You know you have limited prepa­ra­tion time, so you’re putting out the strong­est team you can,” he added.

“You’re look­ing to put out com­bi­na­tions that make it a lit­tle bit eas­ier to al­low a squad to gel to­gether.”

In the Blues, they will un­doubt­edly be put un­der more pres­sure than they faced against the Bar­bar­ians.

While they have al­ready been elim­i­nated from Su­per Rugby play­off con­tention, the com­pe­ti­tion’s con­vo­luted con­fer­ence sys­tem has skewed their place in the stand­ings.

“There are some qual­ity in­di­vid­u­als who are game break­ers in that side,” Gat­land said. “Even though they’re bot­tom of the New Zealand con­fer­ence they’re not far away.

“We know how tough they’re go­ing to be.”

Apart from drop­ping lock Pa­trick Tuip­u­lotu to the bench and with Jerome Kaino still re­cov­er­ing from knee surgery, Tana Umaga named eight All Blacks in ar­guably his strong­est start­ing side.

The big­gest ques­tion mark hangs over rookie fly­half Stephen Pero­feta, who only made his de­but off the bench on Fri­day, and how well he can spark a phys­i­cal, hard-run­ning back­line that in­cludes Sonny Bill Wil­liams, Ge­orge Moala and Rieko Ioane.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity for Stephen to step up and we think he’s ready to do that,” Umaga said. “We don’t want to put too much pres­sure on the young man, but an op­por­tu­nity against the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions doesn’t come around ev­ery day and we don’t have to talk about how big this game is for any­one.” – Reuters

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